Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2007

Council gives Maple Leaf assurances

March 22, 2007

Although it wasn't exactly what the Maple Leaf Festival Planning Committee was after, the Baldwin City Council did express its support at Monday's meeting and promised more.

Committee members were on hand in full force Monday to express their displeasure about a comment made by Mayor Gary Walbridge at a council meeting two weeks ago where the subject of canceling the festival was mentioned because of continued problems with the downtown project.

In the last two years, both times the $1.2 million project to revitalize downtown has been let out for bids, only a single bidder has responded. The last time in February, the bid was for double the engineer's cost and was rejected by the council. Utility Director Bill Winegar has said contractors won't bid on the project because of the time frame of completion before Oct. 1 because of the festival.

That's when Walbridge made his comment about canceling Maple Leaf, although it was quickly shot down by council members and Walbridge says it was only made to spur "creative thinking."

Annie France, vice president of the Maple Leaf committee, said the damage has been done by the comment, especially from vendors in the Kansas City area who have contacted the group as a result. France outlined the group's concern, reading a written statement.

"Recently, a Baldwin City leader made the unfortunate suggestion to cancel the Maple Leaf Festival due to the delay of the downtown renovation," said France. "This comment made it to printed media in surrounding towns including Kansas City. While we believe strongly that the comment wasn't intended to be taken seriously and that our festival will not be canceled, many, particularly those who do not live in Baldwin, may not realize this.

"However failed, the comment has caused concern among the Maple Leaf Festival Planning Committee that the city leadership doesn't recognize the positive impact the festival has on Baldwin City and other local communities," she said. "This press will cost us additional hours and money to counteract, but the underlying sentiment is our primary concern."

There was more in France's statement and other discussion. When it was over, Walbridge explained himself.

"This council is very aware of what the Maple Leaf Festival means," said Walbridge. "The comments I made were just to spark creative thinking."

Council President Amy Cleavinger also expressed support.

"I think it's unfortunate the extent that this was taken," said Cleavinger. "I don't think anyone took that seriously. We certainly want to show our support. It's a no-brainer."

Walbridge reiterated the explanation and also said the city would put a press release out stating its support and that the festival would go on once the project is relet for bids March 28 and more is known about time frame.

"It was an open discussion to spark creative thinking," said Walbridge. "We will put a press release together, right Jeff (Dingman, city administrator)."

Dingman said that would be done.

The committee wasn't the only group to express displeasure with the downtown project delay. Michael Unger, representing a group of retailers, was also concerned.

"We are also concerned about the renovation," said Unger. "We want to know where we're at with it."

Walbridge directed Dingman to answer.

"We are reletting the project and extended it to March 28," said Dingman. "We've made some modifications regarding timing. The two main concerns voiced to us was the project was too constrained on when they could start and time to complete the project. We've made a larger window. Instead of 120 days they'll have 240 days to complete it.

"We'll work around Maple Leaf," he said. "They will demobilize for Maple Leaf. As far as specifics, at this point in time I'm not sure as far as individual businesses. When we have a contractor, we'll know more. We'll inform business owners when we know. That's a question I can't answer at this time."

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